Reading and Analysing Non-African Poetry: The School Boy

 

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In today’s class, we will be talking about reading and analysing non-African poetry: The school boy. Enjoy the class!The School Boy | classnotes.ng

Content analysis

The poem “The School Boy” is a romantic piece that celebrates nature, the rustic setting, as a companion. The poet persona draws consolation from nature, unlike the classroom that he sees as a cage. This is an irony. The classroom ought and should be a place of liberation and enlightenment of the soul. The title of the poem helps to foreground the focus of attention of the poet. The poem is the lamentation of a young boy who is not happy with the restriction placed on him, which has not allowed him to fraternize with nature as he would have loved. The regimentation of this child’s love by a host of parental and social rules and regulations leads to the child becoming sad as he longs for freedom to bask in the beauty of summer or nature. For the boy, nature is the only place where he can find emotional, physical, psychological fulfilment and happiness. He is unhappy with his parents, who want him to go to school. These ushers in one of the main thematic preoccupation of the poet in the poem, which is the subjugation of the child. This brings to the fore, the conflict between the neoclassicists who believed and celebrated restraint and reason as important virtues that each individual must possess and the romanticist who were exponents of celebrating the beauty of nature and imagination. Thus, this poem celebrates the beauty of nature and the importance of staying intimate with or appreciating nature. He laments that classroom education stifles creativity and offers no joy. The teachers are hostile and the environment is not encouraging at all. He sees education as bondage. This is why he asks in stanza 4 why a bird should not be freed from its cage and sing? The child prefers to be left alone.

A hand-illustrated version of “The School Boy” from Copy B of Songs of Innocence currently held at the Library of Congress.

“The School Boy” is a 1789 poem by William Blake and published as a part of his poetry collection entitled “Songs of Innocence.” These poems were later added with Blake’s “Songs of Experience” to create the entire collection entitled “Songs of Innocence and Experience Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.” This collection included poems such as “The Tyger,” “The Little Boy Lost,” “Infant Joy,” and “The Shepherd (Blake).” These poems are illustrated with colourful artwork created by Blake first in 1789.[2] The first printing in 1789 consisted of sixteen copies. None of the copies of Songs of Innocence is exactly alike as some of them are incomplete or were coloured in posthumously “in imitation of” other copies.

“The School Boy” is a poem written in the pastoral tradition that focuses on the downsides of formal learning. It considers how going to school on a summer day “drives all joy away”. The boy in this poem is more interested in escaping his classroom than he is with anything his teacher is trying to teach. In lines 16-20, a child in school is compared to a bird in a cage. Meaning something that was born to be free and in nature, is instead trapped inside and made to be obedient.

The first verse describes the delight of waking up to the birds singing and what a marvellous way this is to start the day.

The next verse, however, contrasts with verse one by describing how distraught the schoolboy is to be at school, and how the thought of this halts his happiness immediately.

Verse three describes the school, how when home-schooled you can sit happily and read. At school, there is no freedom; you will learn what you are told to learn, nothing more, nothing less. School cannot delight him.

Verse four compares a boy at school to a bird in a cage: his potential is restrained.

The fifth verse shows how people are dismayed at school and how students are stripped of their joy.

The final verse describes how a school can never be fun, but it is like a cold winter’s day blasting through the warm summer.

Illustration and form

The illustration for this poem predominantly features elements of nature, which is reflected in the poem’s content. At the bottom of the print, three human figures are sitting down examining either the ground or something upon the ground. This indicates an interest in nature and of what it is compiled.

Around the border of the print is a weaving of intertwined vines. Within these vines are foliage such as leaves and flowers-nature within nature. There is also a human figure perched near the base of the vines with her arms extended, reaching up into the climbing flora. Further up the vines, two human figures are sitting in the crook of two separate vines, each one is reading. This could indicate that the farther one travels into nature, the more one will learn. This, based on Blake’s emphasis on a “Natural” education.

Also among the leaves and fruit of the vines, on the left of the print is a bird about to take flight. “Both victory and liberty […] are associated with bird wings.” Birds can also symbolize knowledge and nature. The presence of the bird further indicated the freedom and learning that can come from education from nature rather than the formal classroom.

Arranged in six stanzas with five lines each, this poem follows a consistently patterned structure. It also contains a rhyme scheme of ababb.

This poem highlights Blake’s affinity for alternative methods of education. Consistently repeated is the draining element of schoolroom education and how it causes students to contribute poor learning and retention for students. Blake instead promotes learning outside the classroom, specifically learning in nature where he believes spontaneous and natural creativity flourishes.

The analogy of the bird and the boy is also evidence of the recurring theme of nature within this poem. As a poet of Romanticism, Blake puts an emphasis on nature, the subjective self and emotions. Within this poem, the allusions to nature are everywhere referencing things such as summer, wind, blossoms, rain showers, birds and spring.[3] Blake equates the seasons of the Earth to the seasons of the boy’s life. Blake also analogizes the boy with a caged bird unable to sing, to attain its free place in nature, just like the boy.

David Almond references “The School Boy” in his novel Skellig to validate his character, Mina’s non-formal learning provided to her by her mother and supplemented heavily by Blake’s materials. Sahm writes that “Mina and her mother quote and reference Blake directly, and many of the characters share his interest in education, spirituality, and imagination. But more than merely quoting Blake’s words, the characters in Skellig live and exemplify one of his primary ideas: that of contraries.”.[6] Namely in Skellig, Almond uses “The Schoolboy” as primary evidence for his character, Mina’s non-traditional education.[6] Which ties in with the text of the poem which continually brings up how being in a traditional school setting is draining, and will make a boy “forget his youthful spring.”

Evaluation

  1. Discuss the poem as a romantic piece.
  2. Analyze the content of the poem.

Themes in the poem and poetic techniques

  1. Education acquired in a natural setting is more fulfilling than formal education in a classroom: The poet persona revolts against the limitation placed on him by the parents and society. He prefers to learn from nature. Thus the persona rejects conventional formal education. He sees formal education as bondage, unlike nature that fires the imagination of creativity.
  2. The beauty and splendour of nature: The poetic persona expresses his love for the elements of nature. He sees summer, trees, winds and the budding of plants as a depiction of beauty.
  3. Children should be allowed to chart their destiny: The poet believes that children should be given the freedom to make their choice of education. This is based on the fact that education of one’s choice brings fulfilment and happiness
  4. The quest for fulfilment in nature: The quest for fulfilment is a core desire of human beings. The poet portrays the child craving for fulfilment in nature.
  5. Loss of the euphoria of the child: The child in question loses hope and happiness in learning.

Poetic techniques 

  1. Metaphor: In line 14, “learning’s bower” is a metaphor for the classroom. The bird in line 16 is a metaphorical reference to the boy.
  2. Apostrophe: The poet persona makes use of this device when he addresses his parents as if they are present.
  3. Dramatic monologue: The persona pours out his thoughts alone without the interference from others.
  4. Consonance: We find this device in line 12, where the /n/ is repeated in “And spend many anxious hours” and in “blossom blown” (l. 22).
  5. Rhetorical question: This is explored in lines 17, 27 and 30.
  6. Personification: The use of personification is evident in the first stanza of the poem. The bird is given a human attribute of singing in lines 2 and 4. In line 8, the eye is given the human attribute as being cruel. Lines 23 and 24 also explore personification.
General evaluation
  1. Discuss the splendour of beauty as portrayed in the poem.
  2. Examine the use of metaphor and personification in the poem.

Weekend assignment

  1. A speech in a play in which a character speaks his or her thought alone is A. a monologue. B. an aside. C. a soliloquy. D. an epilogue.
  2. In Literature, repetition is used essentially for A. rhyme. B. suspense. C. allusion. D. emphasis.
  3. The pattern of a poem without reference to its content is referred to as the A. limerick. B. metre. C. free verse. D. form
  4. The performers in a play constitute the A. chorus. B. character. C. audience. D. cast.
  5. A metrical foot in which a stressed syllable is following by an unstressed syllable is A. iambic. B. spondaic. C. trochaic D. dactylic.

Theory

Examine the structure and tone of the poem.

Reading assignment

Read analysis on the poem above on the net.

 

We hope you enjoyed the class.

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